by Lani

Ritual Rebirth in Ancient and Modern Practice

April 8, 2015 in Atonement, Baptism, Heavenly Mother, Jesus Christ, Lani, Old Testament Women, Priesthood, Rebirth, Rites of passage, Savior, Symbolism, Temple by Lani

I enjoyed so many beautiful moments in conference last weekend. Part of me wanted to write about Linda K. Burton’s beautiful talk. While listening to her words, my cheeks ran with tears as I was completely overcome by an overwhelming gratitude for the man who has stood by my side and held me up through so much pain and darkness. I also wanted to write about saints and sinners, enduring to the end, and Mother Teresa’s intense battle with darkness.

But this morning I felt impressed to write about something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, and I’m not really sure why it has taken me so long to get around to it. What I want to talk about touches on some statements made by a couple of speakers last weekend:

Nothing relative to our time on earth can be more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth, the two prerequisites of eternal life. –D. Todd Christofferson

To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God.” –Dieter F. Uchtdorf

During my senior year at BYU (2002, holy cow that was thirteen years ago), I completed an internship as a managing editor for an on-campus student journal Studia Antiqua. The journal was the brain-child of Matthew Grey, who was a student and editor-in-chief, and was supervised by S. Kent Brown, director of Ancient Studies at BYU. As part of my “training,” Matt gave me copies of the journal’s first issue, published before I joined the team. I still have my copy of that issue and treasure it. Truthfully, I only really treasure the last article in the issue, containing information I wished I had known before I attended the Provo temple to receive my endowment the previous year. The article I’m referring to is called “Becoming as a Little Child: Elements of Ritual Rebirth in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” by our editor-in-chief, Matthew Grey, now known as Dr. Grey, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

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As D. Todd Christofferson reiterated in conference, God has commanded us to teach our children what it means to be reborn and all of the symbolism involved in it. Until I became acquainted with Matthew Grey’s Studia Antiqua article about ritual rebirth, I didn’t realize that baptism wasn’t the only rebirth ritual we participate in as members of the Church. In ancient Israel there were specific acts performed each time a child was born. Matthew Grey outlined these in his research. These include: 1) a washing with water, 2) an anointing with oil, 3) clothing in a garment, and 4) receiving a name.

Matthew Grey shared excerpts from Ezekiel 16, where the Lord spoke to the people of their original “birth” and the elements that were missing: “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” (vs. 4). Then the Lord described how they had been “birthed” of Him through their covenants with Him and how He had provided the important birth rituals they originally lacked: “Then washed I thee with water; yea I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work” (vs. 8-10).

The scriptures outline a similar ritual rebirth process for High Priests before entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement each year. At the door of the temple, a priest would be washed with water, anointed with oil, and clothed with sacred attire. This sacred attire included a cap/mitre, also translatable as “turban” (Mitsnepheth in the Hebrew) or “crown” as described by Myers in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (see footnote 35 in Matthew Grey’s article). Following the washing, anointing, crowning and clothing, the priest was consecrated to the service of God with the the Divine Name inscribed on a plate of gold fitted on his head: “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36-38).

Referring specifically to the anointing aspect of these rituals, Matthew Grey explains: “In most cases, the act of ritual anointing serves to empower or enable the person to do what he was made worthy to do through the washing. In its most common application, anointing with oil was used in the coronation of a king or in the consecration of a priest” (p. 68).

These words from an Ensign article (published two months before I was born) seem particularly pertinent: “In the temple men are prepared for their roles as kings and priests, and women are prepared to become queens and priestesses” (Carolyn J. Rasmus, “Mormon Women: A Convert’s Perspective“). President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive . . . authority and power as queens and priestesses” (Daughters in my Kingdom).

Nothing is more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth Elder Christofferson told us. Our mothers have given us the gift of birth and our first naming. Christ gave us the gift of rebirth through baptism and offered us His name. We may experience other rebirths in our journey upward, but none is more sacred than the rebirth our Heavenly Parents offer to us: a rebirth as kings and queens, priests and priestesses, and the sacred naming given only to those who have overcome the world:

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Revelation 2:17).

by Lani

First Blood

August 9, 2013 in Adversity, Atonement, Death, Divine nature, Eve, Fear, Fertility, Lani, Menstruation, Motherhood, Old Testament Women, Pain, Preparation, Puberty, Rites of passage, Savior, Symbolism, Temple, Young Women by Lani

Photo on 2013-04-08 at 20.30For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about preparing my oldest daughter for menstruation and puberty. She will be turning ten next month, so I know these milestones are quickly approaching us. This past week I started compiling a book I intend to give her for her birthday in September. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning several nights ago, planning and writing. I can’t wait to share the book with her.

Included in her book will be some poetry. I’d like to share some of those short poems with you. “The Fall” and “Sacrifice” I wrote earlier this week. “Menarche” I wrote tonight. It was inspired, in part, by my visit to the temple today. I was able to see the new endowment film, and (as friends had told me I would) I loved the portrayal of Eve.

Dear First Parents, I honor you. Your courage is awe-inspiring.

 

The Fall
By Lani Axman

She fell from Eden-womb,
A sapling
From whom
All the temples on Earth
Would be built,
Their blueprints
Pulsing through her
Like songs
Waiting to be sung,
Whispered in the language
Of her Mother.

 

Woman in Red, by Dina Argov (Source)

Woman in Red, by Dina Argov (Source)

Menarche
By Lani Axman

When the first blood appeared,
Did you scream,
Fearing that you would surely die,
That the fruit had opened your eyes
Only to close them for good?
Or did a familiar whisper
Call to you,
Embrace you with
Love, made audible:
“Fear not, Eve,
For I bring you tidings of great joy:
The Mother of All Living
Has emerged.”

 

Sacrifice
By Lani Axman

Adam spills blood
On holy altars
Where lambs and doves
Bleed hope of reconciliation
Again and again.
And he waits.

Eve spills blood
From the temple
Of her womb,
Where life and death
Mingle in sacrifice
Again and again.
And she waits.

"Empty Nest," by Bethany DuVall (Source)

“Empty Nest,” by Bethany DuVall (Source)

“Why Am I Thus?”: Rebekah’s Birth Story

October 1, 2012 in Heather, Old Testament Women, Personal Revelation by Heatherlady

The birth of Esau and Jacob, as painted by Benjamin West

Motherhood and pregnancy are times full of questions and many hard decisions. It seems like everyone has a different opinion and gives different advice. It is easy to get confused or mislead about which choices are right for you, your baby, and your family. Rebekah, the wife of the prophet Isaac, is a powerful example of how women can to turn to the Lord for direction concerning their pregnancies, their bodies, and stewardships over their children and make choices that will positively affect future generations.

Rebekah struggled with bareness for almost twenty years. This meant she was probably around forty-years-old when she became pregnant for the first and only time. She had a difficult pregnancy because we read that, “the children struggled together within her (Genesis 25:22).” The “struggle” she is referring to could possibly mean that she was literally feeling strange and strong movements in her womb or she may have been feeling overwhelmed by the unknowns and fears that come with a first pregnancy. Some scholars think that she must have been experiencing a lot of pain or had difficult pregnancy complications that none of her family or friends could help her with. Whatever it was she was feeling it was enough to make her feel confused and turn to the Lord for guidance. In Genesis 25:22 it says that she cried unto the Lord, “If it be so, why am I thus?” and then we read that she “went to enquire of the Lord.” It is a great testament to Rebekah’s faith that when she had a question about her pregnancy she turned to the Lord for guidance instead of relying on advice from other women or accepting predominate cultural explanations.

In reply to her prayer the Lord gave her direct and personal revelation. It is one of the few accounts in the Bible that we have of a woman speaking directly with God. He told her, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger (Gen. 25:23).” In this revelation God gave Rebekah two valuable pieces of information. First, He told her that she was carrying twins and that her children would be born safely and live to fulfill their adult missions in life.This knowledge must have brought her much peace seeing in her day infant mortality rates were probably high. Second, God told her that her twins would always “struggle” with each other and that the older twin would serve the younger. This information later prompted her to assist her youngest son, Jacob, in securing the birthright from his father instead of it being passed on to his brother Esau (Genesis 27). Based on this information we see that Rebekah was not, as many seem to think, a conniving, tricky mother who favored one son over another. Instead she was a mother who had conversed with the Lord and was acting upon the revelation He had given her before her sons were even born.

Like Rebekah all women are able to inquire of God and receive personal revelation concerning their bodies, their pregnancies, and their children. He will answer our questions in many different ways– in our minds, in our hearts, through promptings, premonitions, or through other people. It is important to remember that all of a woman’s senses are heightened during pregnancy; not only do things like her sense of smell and taste increase, but so does her sensitivity to other’s emotions and feelings (thus the tendency to weep easily), and her awareness and connection to sacred things and experiences. Perhaps it is because of the sacred and pure little life that she is carrying inside of her, or because of the risk she takes of loosing their own lives to bring forth another, but a pregnant woman lives a little bit closer to the veil than everyone else. She is in a unique position to receive personal and direct revelation about choices concerning her body and her baby, if she will only ask the Lord for guidance and have the faith to trust Him.

No matter how good the information is that we get– from a book, our mothers, our care providers, our sisters, or the lady at the grocery store– remember that God is the one true source of knowledge. We need to learn to trust our and will not lead us astray. Like Rebekah we need to learn to rely on Him first and trust the guidance He gives us.